‘Skateboarding is full of misfits, energy and creativity, so it’s never dull.’
Can you tell us something about New Zealand that no one knows?
New Zealand was the first country in the world where women were able to vote. 130 years on, we are still struggling with basic equity in society.
Tell us something about yourself and your role at Manual?
Manual was started by a group of friends who all lived in the same suburb of Wellington and were attending design school together at the time. The year was 1997. Ruben Bryant and Caleb Smith made a photocopied zine called Clone on Ruben’s dad’s photocopier. The sophomore issue turned into Manual with myself and a few other friends contributing with photos, articles and music reviews. Issue one of Manual featured the corny tagline “a magazine with pictures” on the cover. We thought we were clever because we used wacky downloaded fonts and gave sections of the magazine cryptic names, like the room number at the university’s photography department, where we scanned all the images for free. In-jokes were only cool to the people that knew what they meant. That’s why they were so awesome. Understandably, we stopped using them after a while. While at uni, one of my part-time jobs was at my family’s print shop as a printer labourer. We paid NZ$400, and I worked a shift for free to pay for the first print run. While working for the magazine for over 20 years, I have done jobs ranging from therapist to mopping the piss-soaked doorway outside our office every morning. I managed to spell a key contributor’s name wrong for at least five issues; we named two consecutive issues by the same number/season, and the only proper mail we ever received was from prisoners.
‘I managed to spell a key contributor’s name wrong for at least five issues; we named two consecutive issues by the same number/season, and the only proper mail we ever received was from prisoners.’
You are an Art Director/Product Designer by trade and do the skate mag on the side.
I was working full time on Manual until the end of 2015. Since then I’ve been working for a few different businesses. Large scale appliance company and a few different digital studios in Wellington.
Where do you take the creative energy from?
I owe my parents for some of my work ethic. They both ran their own businesses, so they were an excellent benchmark for the drive, passion and dedication it takes to make something successful. Working with a variety of creative people has always provided great fuel. Skateboarding is full of misfits, energy and creativity, so it’s never dull.
Can you give us a brief summary of the Manual history to date?
Manual started as a free black and white zine printed on one sheet of paper; It was folded and stapled to make a 16-page zine. The magazine evolved through a few different sizes/formats; we added colour and then a cover price. We are in the process of making our 69th issue. 2022 is technically our 25th year, although the last issue, #68, took over four years to complete. We used to print in china for 3-4 years and distribute to Australia in bulk. Manual has had two sibling publications: Spoke, a mountain biking magazine, born in 2001 and still thriving under the care of a new publisher. And Staple – a fashion and culture magazine that lastedd two short years and ten issues.
‘2022 is technically our 25th year, although the last issue, #68, took over four years to complete.’
Your last print run was in 2019. What happened?
I was living in Auckland at the time, going through a breakup and working on a hideous project at my day job that almost made me have a nervous breakdown. I attempted to keep the magazine running during this time but failed miserably. In late 2019 after a few false starts with the mag, the kids and their mum decided to move back to Wellington to be closer to our extended family. Then the pandemic hit, so we hit pause. It took until early 2022 to get another issue out.
You just celebrated a print revival with your April 2022 issue. What has changed? Honestly, I’m surprised we got it out. Sadly but conveniently, the studio I was working at closed its doors in December 2021 and I had a few weeks to kill before starting a new job. It was just enough to get back on the horse, sew the issue up and get it to the printers.
What are your plans with print from this point on?
We’re going to keep things steady from now on. Slow but steady. That means two issues a year, which is a good fit for little ol’ New Zealand.
Do you expect a similar revival of skate mag prints across the world?
I think there’s a bit of a renaissance of sorts. People are a bit tired of the throwaway culture of the Internet. Don’t get me wrong; I love the endless feed of videos from all around the world delivered instantly to the palm of my hand. It’s as equally overwhelming as it is vacuous. Being able to consume a crafted volume of work and return to it, again and again, is a great thing. It’s a treasured experience that people are returning to, or for younger audiences, experiencing for the first time. These tactile experiences have always been highly desirable and created a lasting impact. That’s even more true today. The demand seems to be growing again, and it’s nice to see some stalwart titles thriving and new titles sprouting up locally and internationally. It’s hard to do, so I have endless respect for anyone who does it.
What are some of the challenges Manual faces today?
Time and priorities. Making a magazine takes a lot of love, energy and time. It’s not my first priority, which makes things a bit harder. The cost and impact of making physical products are something to consider – that weighs on us. We feel we are making a lasting product that people will keep and revisit for a long time, which helps. Raising the money to do each issue has always required hard work, sometimes equal to or greater than making the actual content.
When you look at printed publications in general, it looks like advertisers have become more involved in the editorial aspect. What is your take on this?
I think it’s a good progression for advertising, but only if it is genuine. Ads and graphics have always been a massive part of the experience of a skateboard magazine and the culture in general. Connecting and working together with brands to generate interesting, meaningful content can be a rewarding thing for both parties. Sometimes it can fall a bit flat, so you have to watch out for the pitfalls. Keeping yourself honest by constantly asking yourself, “would a skateboarder like this?” is a good practice. Skateboarders can be harsh critics at the best of times, so it’s a good exercise. A simple advert featuring a local rider always goes down well. Brands that are mature or comfortable in their own skin are great to work with. Knowing when it’s right to take a straightforward approach helps.
On your website, it says that ‘The strangest adverts we’ve ever printed were for an apparel company claiming drunken technology, one targeting tartan connoisseurs, a second-hand skateboard shop and a Vespa repair service.’ Has it been tough to make compromises on paid ads that have no/little to do with the skateboard scene just to pay the bills?
Sometimes the best intentions can turn sour at the last minute (when the artwork arrives two minutes before the deadline). Most of the ones mentioned in the quote above were reasonably legitimate; well, we thought so (or convinced ourselves) at the time.
‘Raising the money to do each issue has always required hard work, sometimes equal to or greater than making the actual content.’
If you have to pick one highlight in the history of Manual, what would it be and why?
Being featured on Shortland Street – a long-running New Zealand TV drama on the regular was a highlight. Publishing photography by industry legends like Arto Saari, Dave Chami, and Mike O’Meally alongside work of your own and your peers is special to my heart.
Which are/were some of the skate mags (printed or digital) that you like reading and why?
The skate bible Thrasher is always good. I just ordered the first edition of Jamie Owen’s new mag Closer – I can’t wait to check that out. 43 magazine by Allen Ying was exceptional. Daylight Skateboards owner Luke Browne just made Teal – that’s super cool. Slap, Skateboarder and Stick (snowboarding magazine by the publishers of Raygun and Nylon) were always good. The Skateboarder’s Journal from Australia is exceptional. Anything with Mike O’Meally, Thomas Campbell or Brian Gaberman photos was outstanding. Transworld, when Dave Chami was there, was superb.
Last question. If you could interview one person, who would it be and why?
That’s too hard to answer. I’d go for a day of hanging out with someone like John Cardiel, Wade Speyer or Grant Taylor, watching them skate first-hand and experiencing the drive and mentality of some of the best to ever to do it.
‘Keeping yourself honest by constantly asking yourself, “would a skateboarder like this?” is a good practice.’